“How can I be the man in a relationship?”
It’s hard to figure out what it means to be a man. Unfortunately, I know the difficulty from personal experience. If we look at the last one hundred years, I would honestly say today is the toughest time for young men to truly understand manhood, especially within relationships. From the time we were boys, today’s young men have been bombarded by a revolting mixture of cultural ideas about manhood. In film and literature we often see true men portrayed as action heroes, very tough and lionhearted. Yet Christianity seems to imply men need to be tender and lamblike.
On top of that there is a a cultural pun (with much truth to it) that the “nice guys” never get the girls. And concurrently, the “jerk” or “bad guys” do end up getting the girl. In my experience with many people (heck even myself, as early on Inna liked me the because I was not being very nice) this has often been the case, further throwing more confusion into the mix. It often frustrated me when I tried to understand my role as a man, and so I tried to find my identity with trying be like a type or category of men. I tried associating myself with elitist intellectuals, fashion driven metrosexuals, and with construction guys, thinking that doing some external thing would make it or break it. Obviously those things didn’t work. I have been through a lot of failure as a man, I hope you can avoid it, though you probably can’t; and maybe that’s part of learning about what a man is.
THEOLOGY: JESUS AS EXAMPLE
Before you and I start to think about methodology, or how we do manly things, we need to study the theory/theology of what is the essence, origin, and spirit of manhood. The best way for men to learn masculinity is to follow the perfect man, Jesus. There are a lot of similarities with regard to the type of relationship Christ has with his bride, and the type men should be in with their brides. In fact, the Apostle Paul uses this relationship of Christ and Church, as the model for Husband and Wife (Eph 5:21-33). So looking to Christ, what should a man be in his relationships? Tender or tough? Lionhearted or lamblike? If you know the answer, you are well on your way to true manhood.
In Rev 5:5 we are introduced to Christ, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah.” Often when we think about Jesus the humble man, who did not defend himself against the onslaught of wicked men who beat and murdered him, we think of him as being very weak. Yet Christ is far from that, he showed strength and resolve by sticking with the predestined plan, even though it was grueling, hard, and utterly horrific. Even in His weakness he was strong. When it was appropriate to protect his Father’s house, Jesus took a whip, and tore through the temple market, literally going Rambo on everyone (John 2:13-16 ). Imagine the temple during the busy Passover holiday; the court of the Gentiles was 35 acres in size, and filled with tens of thousands of people. Jesus stood there, alone against many. Imagine walking into Costco, turning over cashier stands, and forcing people to stop buying things. That act required boldness, courage, and the heart of a lion.
In Rev 5:6 we are introduced to Christ, the “Lamb, as though it had been slain.” Often when we think about Jesus the King of Kings, judge the earth, we think of him as being strong, harsh, and uncaring. Yet while Jesus angrily rebuked some by calling them tombs and snakes (Mat 23:27-28, 33), he was kind to others who were broken in their sinful state. There are many occasions where Jesus showed tender mercy and kindhearted love towards those who needed help. From paralytics to prostitutes, Jesus spoke soft words, gave tender care, and behaved very gently to those in need, because he would (and did) give up his life to serve them. Those actions required the gentle heart of a lamb.
Men as Lions AND Lambs.
While this may seem like an oxymoron, or a dichotomy, we men are called to emulate Jesus and be both “tough & tender” (Mark Driscoll’s language) or “lionhearted & lamblike” (John Piper’s language). Without having this understanding and heart internally, the actions we take externally will never be enough to make us real men (we may become arrogant brutes or anxious wussies, but not men). Without trying to model our life after Jesus and taking both his humility and his courage, we will always lean too heavily to one side.
Don’t lead like Satan
Many men think to lead means to dominate and force the wife to do what you want. This is hardly the case, in fact that is the way Satan rules, not Jesus. Satan manipulates and coerces people do things against their will. Satan always uses tactics like fear, guilt, or shame to force people to do things he wants. He never does something with good intentions for them, but only causes them to things that are for his own selfish gain and to their harm. So a man cannot “lead” by simply manipulating his wife to do what he wants, instead he lead by earnestly caring about what is best for her.
Jesus cares very deeply for his bride, he is satisfied when she is safe and so he suffered terrific pain and endured many horrors for her. Some men force their wives to suffer horrifically and feel terrific pain, so their “manly” and moronic ego could be satisfied. Men who beat, force, or manipulate, ridicule, shame, or curse their wives are satisfying a selfish goal, desire, or ego. These men are not leading, neither are they manly or authoritative, they are satanic.
METHODOLOGY: PROVIDE AND PROTECT
Let’s review some practical ways to be a man in a relationship. We will build upon the character of manhood, as shown by Jesus, the many examples of how Jesus protected and provided for his bride (the church, as well as direct teaching on relationships, (Eph 5:25-29, 1 Tim 5:8, 1 Peter 3:7, Col 3:19). The biggest principle you will see here is that a man ALWAYS takes responsibility. Jesus took responsibility for our salvation before time began. Jesus took responsibility for our sins before we asked. Jesus took responsibility for our life. Jesus took responsibility to provide us a future. If you want to be a real man, in any relationship, your lion/lamb heart must take responsibility. Men like thinking they are created by God to lead, but, to quote Spiderman’s uncle: “with great power comes great responsibility.”
First lesson, as you are reading all of these responsibilities, you will be tempted to say “but what about the wife?! She needs to do something too!” Avoid that type of thinking. The first step to becoming a man, like Jesus, is to quit complaining about bride, and do your duty. If you do it well, then by God’s grace your wife will likely follow in her responsibilities. But the first sign of a real man is that he doesn’t point to the wife, he deals with his primary responsibility, and he knows his primary duty may even include gently encouraging his wife to do her duty.
- Shelter: Buying a house? Renting an apartment? How many rooms do you need? What area is best for the family? Understand and listen to your wife’s needs and requests, being gentle and caring, then provide what you can financially afford. Don’t buy what you can’t pay for, it’s not providing a shelter if you are going to lose it.
- Supplies: You don’t need to shop and bring groceries to the house, although that may be nice, especially if you are asked to help, but you are responsible for making sure there is money for groceries, as well as other items that are needed. No that $800 bottle of perfume is not needed, but part of being a woman does mean she needs to have perfume. Learn to find that balance.
- Budgeting: Your wife may be great with numbers, and may do anywhere from none to all of the budgeting, but you are responsible for making sure there is a budget and that its followed. You aren’t responsible to provide a rich lavish lifestyle, but a livable and sustainable one. It’s your responsibility to man up and (tenderly) say “honey we can’t afford this, here is an alternative.”If you try to be “sacrificial” by working all the time to provide more finances, you are going to fail a lot of other responsibilities (spiritual and emotional).
- Security: If there is some drunk guy trying to make passes at your wife, quite obviously, it’s your responsibility to make sure he is stopped (do try and use the proper protocol, security and police before you start swinging, but if it comes to it, hit hard but not from revenge). Make it your job to know if there are men at her work sexually harassing her, make sure her employer is made aware and she has a safe environment. If that cannot happen, take her out of that environment.
- Safety: It’s your responsibility that her car is safe to drive, heck she may love cars and want to work on them alone or with you, but at the end of the day, you are responsible for making sure her car is running safely, or that the house will not catch on fire, or that there is no asbestos in the walls. If you see her doing something unsafely, its your duty to help her find a way to do it without risk.
- Health: Your wife may be a nurse, or a nutritionist, and may have tons of great medical knowledge and information, heck maybe her job provides both of you with the medical insurance, yet it’s your job to care for her health (hers to care for yours as well). This means be passive: don’t push her to do things that may not be safe for her, and be active in asking her to stop doing unsafe things. If it’s getting late, tenderly encourage her to get her sleep, if you are both eating unhealthy, ask her to create a better diet and etc.
- Romance: Maybe you aren’t really a romantic, (for me buying flowers was always plain weird), and maybe you don’t speak her love language. But guess what, it’s that responsibility word again (getting the hang of this?) It’s your responsibility to educate yourself, prepare yourself, learn to understand your wife, figure out her heart, or what makes her feel butterflies in her stomach. It’s your responsibility to make sure your wife feels loved; not just spoiled with stuff but truly, deeply, genuinely loved. This is why people get divorced, they do heartless routines, but don’t feel responsibility to make the other person feel loved. (It’s also your responsibility to initiate some conversations about sex.)
- Decisions: This is a hard one for some men, I admit it definitely was/is for me. Men must make (wise/selfless) decisions, while tenderly caring about their wife and being tough/bold to uphold those decisions. Few people will tell you this, but if you don’t make decisions (because you don’t want to hurt her feelings or etc) you will cause her to feel you are weak and she won’t feel safe. Of course, do listen to her, be kind and understanding, don’t make selfish decision, but make a darn decision and keep it (being tender to her, but tough about your decision) and she will feel very safe with you, because you will feel strong willed for her. It’s your responsibility to stop saying “I don’t know” or replace it with “I don’t know, but let’s trust Jesus and pray about it.”
- From yourself: Everybody gets in fights and arguments, stop kidding yourself. Don’t pretend that you don’t or falsely assume that you won’t. My wife and I have the most perfect relationship, according to most people we know, yet we still often argue. It’s the man’s responsibility to protect the wife from himself. This means, when you get into a fight, you are responsible for repenting first. This is hard and feels unfair, yet Jesus was first to reconcile himself to the Church, and he was the only one truly innocent. You are in a fight, and you feel you are right, yet your duty is to protect your wife from your pissy self by repenting first. Your duty is not to protect your egotistical image of rightness.
- From herself: It does happen, but fights with only one guilty party are not the norm. Usually both parties have sin and need to repent. It’s your responsibility to protect your wife from her sinful, selfish, inclinations. The catch is that the main way you will do this is by doing something ego-crushing, repenting first (because you are not innocent). In the rare cases that you are innocent, it’s your responsibility to be patient and kind, like Jesus, and not accuse, but gently lead her to repentance.
- From others: When I said “everybody gets into fights” I meant it. Unfortunately this includes your family, relatives, friends, church members and etc. There will be times when your wife will be involved in some dispute. As a man it’s your responsibility to protect your wife from this dispute, whether it is her fault or not. You don’t merely stick up for her and join her side, but you tenderly pull her out and end the fight, in a tough but gentle manner.
- Read: Opening the Bible together was a hard one for us to do, we are both very active and busy, and both read plenty of Scripture on our own, and doing it together felt weird. Yet it’s important to make time for a joint scripture reading because it opens many doors for discussion and the Holy Spirit begins to give guidance to you as a family unit. Many men have issues with women who are more intellectual and scholarly while, the man is less of a reader, more of a woodworker. In those cases, I would reiterate John Piper, and just encourage you to invite her to read with you. Your responsibility is not to be a Bible scholar and tell her Greek verbs, but to invite her to read with you.
- Instruct: God gives wisdom to both men and women, and both are of great council to each other. One of your spiritual duties to your wife is to give her godly council about her life. To show interest and care in her spiritual walk and sanctification. This requires you to take some time and study, to read a book or article here and there, to study what the Bible says, how we ought to live and act. Only once you make it your responsibility to learn wise council can you give wise council.
- Pray: It should be your goal to not only pray for your wife, but also be the one who asks her if she needs prayer. There are probably things she is scared to ask you about, or doesn’t want to burden you with. Your responsibility is to spend time with her every so often just tenderly inquiring of her whether she needs support and prayer in a specific area of her life.
- Repent yourself: You have sinned, you are sinning, and you will continue to sin until we receive glorified bodies that are immune from the effects of this fallen world. There are things in your life that are sinful, there are desires that are wicked, there is propensity to sin and hurt your wife. You are the closest sinner to her heart, you are able to produce the most damage. It is your responsibility to protect her by walking with Christ, relying on His Grace, and repenting from your own sin.
- Teach repentance: First, leading by example, when you deal with personal sin, do so in front of your wife some or most of the time, for by doing this you can serve as a model of repentance. Showing how you repent when you fall, will serve your wife and help her in sanctification. Showing her how perfect you are will only serve her with condemnation. Second, when you see her in sin, it’s your responsibility to call her out, gently rebuke her, and as a final resort, involve church discipline (in rare cases of serious sin and refusal of repentance).
THINK THIS WILL BE DIFFICULT?
You may be thinking “my wife will never want me to be so in charge.” First off, you have primary responsible for everything, however, you don’t have sole responsibility. Your wife is responsible for a great deal herself, thus you can and should discuss issues and be very open with your wife. Listen to her wisdom and input. So don’t assume responsibility means you take her out and just do what you think is right, by no means. Do listen to her feedback. The issue here, is that very often men who are “in charge” do so out of ego and selfishness, and likely you have also tried it out of selfish desires, not thinking about how to best care for her, so of course she doesn’t want you in charge. Once you start explaining that you doing all of the above, with the intent and goal of caring for you wife, that she is your priority, not yourself, she will embrace her womanhood and enjoy being cared for. Simply put, it’s her natural instinct, and thereafter, she can fulfill her responsibility and be submissive to you, because she knows you will care for her.
You may also be thinking, this is so hard, I will fail, I can never do all of that. Of course you will (I did and do), only the perfect man could do all of that perfectly. Yet the good news is this perfect man, Jesus, promised to help us, so somehow, through our attempts, failures, and struggles he will train us and sustain us. This is part of our sanctification.